Fire chief quits; names new leader

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BETHEL – James Young, 58, joined the Bethel Fire Department soon after graduating from high school in 1968.

Late last week, he surprised everyone in the department when he stepped down as chief, and named his assistant chief, Mike Jodrey, as the new boss.

“None of us had any inkling of this. Everyone was just, like stunned,” Jodrey said Thursday night of the bombshell Young dropped on Jan. 4 at the conclusion of the department’s regular monthly meeting in the station.

“I guess he was thinking about it for a year, but he didn’t even tell his wife and children about it until right before he told us,” said Jodrey, a 20-year Bethel firefighter.

Contacted early Thursday night, Young, a man of few words, declined comment. He will continue as Jodrey’s assistant chief until department elections in late May. Additionally, he wants to remain a member of the department and continue to serve the town as its fire warden.

He’s been a member for 38 years, 17 of them as chief.

Jodrey, fellow firefighters and Town Manager Scott Cole all praised Young on Thursday for work accomplished.

He updated the department’s five firetrucks, helped Jodrey work with the town to get a new fire station built that’s more than twice the size of the old one, got needed water rescue equipment, a thermal imaging camera and a hazardous materials camera, all new turnout gear, self-contained breathing gear, and top notch dress uniforms.

“Jimmy has always been the backbone of this company,” firefighter Ken Paquette said.

Young also instituted a wellness program and a firefighter training program.

Firefighter Randy Harrington said Young “brought the department to full compliance with state and federal regulations, and, he was a strong supporter of the Bethel firefighters’ calendar,” a tastefully done, “beefcake-style” fund-raising hit that revealed results of the wellness program.

Jodrey, Mr. September, also spoke highly of Young.

“He’s got stuff here running like a Swiss watch right now,” he said. “He’s been a great help and a good mentor to a lot of firemen.”

“Jim is the most trusted man in the Fire Department, and probably the most trusted town official in Bethel,” said Cole, the only one Young confided in early last month regarding his decision to step down.

“He felt I ought to know. I said he could still change his mind if he wanted to, but he didn’t. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he says something, it means a lot,” Cole added.

Regarding Jodrey, every firefighter there Thursday also spoke highly of the new chief, even Jodrey’s dad, former state Rep. Arlan Jodrey, who served eight terms that ended Dec. 6.

“I guess he’s taken on quite a lot of responsibility, but he’s up to it. He’s young and he’s interested in it,” Jodrey said Friday night by phone at his Bethel home.

“It’s a tremendous commitment, being a firefighter. I did it for 30 years and he wanted to do it, too. He has a different mindset than I did, so, I know he’ll do a good job,” he added.

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